The Well-Performing Digital Team for Your Agile Projects

Paolo Dotta

11 March 2019

Great! You’re adopting an agile methodology for your digital project. However, you don’t know how to structure an effective team capable of executing and delivering good quality on schedule. You are also unsure of the characteristics of such a team

We often hear about the greater advantages of the Agile philosophy compared to the “traditional” waterfall approach. In which you plan and execute a long-term project that is complete on the day of release.

Very few times, however, do we hear about the team characteristics that will best fit projects using the Agile philosophy. 

Many times, when consulting with, I’ve met corporate managers trying to find the best team structure for their innovative projects.

A Flexible Team Might Be The Answer

On the one hand, at a corporate level, my first suggestion is this. If your core business is not a tech-related one, you shouldn’t hire tech talents on a full-time basis.

One option is to set up an internal team of contractors (if there’s an experienced project manager within your firm). The other is to outsource to an agile consultancy agency. Just make sure they have a proven track record and experience on a project basis.

On the other hand, if you’re starting a new tech-focused startup from scratch, the rationale is a bit different. I recommend this article to help you get started. 

Both of these options give you the power to achieve your goal earlier. You will also get better quality with a more efficient cost structure. Here’s why:

1. Multi-Skill

 Each project requires different skills in order to work and not simply one or two highly qualified people. A mid-complexity project requires people focused on architecture, frontend, backend, design and product.

2. No Hires

 You won’t be able to fill the roles representing all the skills needed in a short period of time. You may be restricted in which stack you can build. For example, building in a sub-optimal stack because you cannot hire an expert in the most cutting edge technology. 

3. Cheaper to Try 

The cost structure might be more efficient. I don’t mean that working with freelancers is cheaper. It is more expensive in terms of daily/hourly rate. But over the year it should widely compensate due to not needing a team for most of the time.

4. It’s Not a Fixed Cost 

The relationship reaches a natural end (end of contract). Subsequently, no money will be spent to train your workforce for executing the specific project.

5. Time-to-Market Flexibility

You don’t probably want to commit to a team with a rigid size. In this case, you can scale the team up and down as each sprint requires faster or slower delivery.

If you go down this route (contractors/Agile agencies) your manager must carefully cherry-pick the resources/the right partner. Otherwise, you won’t get very far.

At an agency level, you must assess its track records and ask for references.

If you are choosing contractors, I will now identify the characteristics of those talents that you should be looking for. But first, if you’re not experienced in evaluating technical skills I would recommend learning some tech basics before getting started. On top of this, you could ask a friend/colleague to assess them.

Daniel, CEO of Altar, Product and Software development company specialising in building MVPs, full custom software development projects & creating UX/UI that is both functional and beautiful
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An Effective Agile Team

When building an effective agile team you need people who are basketball-skilled, Musketeers who are willing to swarm. Here’s what I mean by this:

Musketeers Attitude

Surely you remember their famous motto “All for one and one for all”. Well, this Musketeer attitude sums up the perfect agile team mentality. It highlights the point that the team members together own the responsibility of getting the job carried out. They win and they fail as a team.

Basketball Skilled

Most of the time people have a deep, mature knowledge of a discipline. They also have broad, but deep, skills in other areas. If this was not the case there would be a huge workload on one single resource. Consequently causing blocks along the flux due to a rigid structure. 

Let’s imagine, John is a world-class expert on Elastic Search. But he’s also capable of building and managing backend Node.JS modules. John works mainly on the database. However, if needed, he’ll be able to drain part of the workload from the backend developer who is in need of a hand.

In short, digital teams are exactly the same as basketball teams. First of all, you agree that a basketball offence action is an agile sprint: you want to score, you want things properly done.

Let me make a brief description of the 5 basketball roles, for those who are not familiar with them:

  1. Chris Paul, aka Playmaker/Point Guard: the best ball handler and passer among the team members. He drives the offence phases, calls schemes and directs the play. He’s also called “the coach of the floor”.
  2. Michael Jordan, aka Shooting Guard: good handler and passer, he’s a good shooter from three-point range.
  3. Lebron James, aka Small Forward: the most versatile among the five. He’s a good shooter and has a great power “to get to the line”.
  4. Tim Duncan, aka Power Forward: similar to the pivot but with greater shooting capabilities.
  5. Shaquille O’Neal, aka Pivot: also called the centre, he plays down at the baseline, close to the basket. Great in catching rebounds and contesting shots, he usually is the tallest.

Their goal, as a team, is very simple: get the ball through a hoop and prevent the opponent team to do the same. 

Willingness to Swarm

Team members with a musketeer attitude and basketball skills are in a good position to Swarm. Let’s face it, one person alone cannot win a basketball match. Five people together, in a team that swarms towards each sprint delivery, win the game.

How Does This Help The Agile Project?

Well, let’s focus on the offence side. One role deserves a separate focus: the Point Guard. Being the “coach of the floor” and the most expert dribbler and passer, you can see him as the project manager. He films the game, manages the players steering them towards the desired directions: To get the ball in the basket.

All the other roles are similar but very different. Each of them is a deep expert in one position. but with great skills to play on other roles. Ready to help any team-mate that needs it.

In the same vein, this should happen in an agile team. One capable, analytical Project Manager and other valuable members. The greatest at their jobs but with broad skills in other roles. Who are always ready to help the other members to put the ball into the hoop – to close the sprint. Whilst stopping the opponent doing the same. The opponent, in the case of an agile project, being: inertia, lack of clarity and of collaboration between the team.

“Basketball skilled” means Lebron who plays roles 1, 4 and 5 whilst Michael Jordan plays 1 and 3.

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Perfect Agile Team

A manager should look for a true basketball team. Willing to swarm and with a “musketeers philosophy”. A team that has a great understanding of product and crafts beautiful UX/UI. That is ahead of the curve in tech terms – so your firm can have a technology stack that will be up to date for years to come.

However, looking for and picking partners with the aforementioned characteristics is not an easy or fast process. It requires strong experience and flair to identify the perfect resources that suit those key roles.

Paolo Dotta
Paolo started working in banking in Milan and London. After the financial career, he created a startup and then joined Altar where he mainly deals with business development and fintech projects.

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